Thalassarche steadi 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Procellariiformes Diomedeidae

Scientific Name: Thalassarche steadi
Species Authority: Falla, 1933
Common Name(s):
English White-capped Albatross
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
Identification information: 90 cm. Medium-sized black, slate-grey and white albatross with a black thumb mark at the base of the leading edge of the underwing. It has a bold white cap contrasting with a pale silver-grey face and a darker brow. Some adult birds may have a very white back with brown tips to the feathers (B. Watkins in litt. 2008). The mantle is dark grey and tail black. The body plumage is all white and its bill is pale grey/blue with a yellow tip. Immature birds have a grey bill with a dark tip, which lightens with age and a darker head than the adult with grey extending to the collar. Similar spp. very similar to slightly smaller Shy Albatross T. cauta but T. steadi has paler face and less yellow on the culmen of the bill. Salvin's Albatross T. salvini and Chatham Albatross T. eremita have darker grey heads and lack the white cap.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Double, M., Gales, R., Robertson, C., Ryan, P.G., Scofield, P., Watkins, B., Debski, I., Baker, B. & Hitchmough, R.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Anderson, O., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B. & Symes, A.
The population trend of this albatross remains poorly known, as there is high inter-annual variability in breeding numbers and estimates prior to 2007 are not comparable with those made since. Analysis of recent data suggest that the trend may in fact be stable, but the species remains categorised as Near Threatened given the continuing uncertainty over its trend and because, given its longevity and slow productivity, and a high rate of mortality recorded in longline and trawl fisheries, it may be declining at a moderately rapid rate.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Thalassarche steadi is endemic to offshore islands of New Zealand, where it appears to breed biennially, with the annual breeding population estimated at approximately 100,000 pairs in 2012 (Baker et al. 2013). Breeding colonies are located on Disappointment Island, Adams Island and Auckland Island in the Auckland Island group, and Bollons Island (50-100 pairs) in the Antipodes Island Group, with some 95% of the global population breeding on Disappointment Island (Baker et al. 2013). 'Shy' type albatrosses have been recorded in the south-west Atlantic for many years (White et al. 2002, Phalan et al. 2004). Most of the birds recorded are immature, which has hindered specific identification. However, genetic evidence from a bird on South Georgia confirmed the species was T. steadi (Phalan et al. 2004). In addition, tracking studies (Thompson and Sagar 2007), bird band recoveries (Robertson et al. 2003) and DNA-based identification of bycatch specimens (Abbott et al. 2006) have confirmed that this species forages in Tasmania and Southern Africa/Namibia (Robertson et al. 2003), and immature birds are thought to occur regularly throughout the South Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean. The first tracking studies commenced on Auckland Island in 2006 and are ongoing (Thompson and Sagar 2007). Annual estimates of breeding pairs between 2007-2011 appeared to indicate a very rapid population decline, but inter-annual variability and larger numbers breedng in 2012 cast this into doubt. The need for accurate trend information is highlighted by estimates of 8,000 individuals killed annually as a result of longline and trawl fisheries by ACAP (2009), and over 17,000 birds per year by Francis (2012). However, adult survival (based on mark-recapture data) was estimated at 0.96 (0.91-1.00, 95% C.I.) by Francis (2012), suggesting that adults may not be overly impacted by fisheries bycatch (B. Baker in litt. 2013).

Countries occurrence:
Australia; Namibia; New Zealand; South Africa
Present - origin uncertain:
Angola (Angola); Argentina; Brazil; Chile; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); French Southern Territories; Heard Island and McDonald Islands; Madagascar; Mauritius; Mozambique; Norfolk Island; Peru; Réunion; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; Uruguay
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:540Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:114000000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The annual breeding population was estimated at 100,501 pairs in 2012, but in recent years estimates have ranged from as high as 116,025 pairs in 2006 and as few as 73,838 in 2009. The 2012 estimate equates to c.201,000 mature individuals, but this species is now considered to be a biennial breeder, meaning that the total population may in fact be much larger.

Trend Justification:  Pre-2006/2007 population estimates were not based on comparable methodologies to current census methods and therefore population trends cannot be calculated before this time. Counts since then are comparable with current estimates and appeared to indicate a rapidly declining population (117,197 pairs in 2007 and 77,005 pairs in 2011, for the Auckland Islands excluding Adams Island, where there is a very small population - 117 pairs in 2011). However, numbers in 2012 were larger (100,501 pairs) and estimates between 2006-212 showed very high inter-annual variability (the species is now considered to be a biennial breeder). Whilst a TRIM (TRends and Indices for Monitoring data) analysis of annual estimates of breeding pairs between 2006-2012 found a moderate decline (-2.19% per year), trend analysis using smoothing splines - which is considered to be more appropriate to data sets with high inter-annual variability - showed no evidence for a systematic monotonic decline over this period, suggesting that the population may be stable (Baker et al. 2013, I. Debski in litt. 2013). Further data are therefore required to confirm the population trend, which is currently precautionarily retained as a moderately rapid ongoing decline given the considerable numbers recorded as bycatch in fisheries.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:200000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Behaviour The breeding frequency and season for this colonially breeding species is poorly known (Petersen 2004), but recent indications are that it breeds biennially (ACAP 2009, Baker et al. 2013), with annual probability of breeding estimated at 0.68 (0.58–0.81, 95% C.I) by Francis (2012). No information is available about either juvenile survival or the age at first breeding (Francis 2012).. Eggs are usually laid mid-November and hatch in February. Chicks are thought to fledge in mid-August, though a fledging period of June-July may be more likely. Some adults remain near the colonies year-round (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding Colonies are generally located on rock islands. Diet The main foods include, fish, cephalopods, crustaceans and tunicates. It is a ship-follower and fish processing discharge comprises a significant proportion of its diet. Birds are generally surface feeders, but may undertake shallow surface dives.

Systems:Terrestrial; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):23.1
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The geographic range of T. steadi brings them into contact with a variety of longline and trawl fisheries in New Zealand, the high seas and off the coast of South Africa and Namibia (Baker et al. 2007). The global bycatch of this species (including cryptic mortality) was estimated to be over 17,000 birds per year by Francis (2012), with c.30% of this bycatch coming from New Zealand fisheries, although this percentage appears to be declining, and lack of data concerning cryptic mortality make these estimates very uncertain.

However, although T. cauta ('shy-type') comprised 15% of all seabirds returned from longlines in New Zealand waters during 1988-1997 (Taylor 2000), New Zealand demersal and pelagic longline fisheries were considered to have a relatively low impact on T. steadi populations by Baker et al. (2007). Previously, this impact was higher; the Auckland Islands squid trawl fishery killed 2,300 adults in 1990 alone, most through collision with net monitor cables, which were phased out in 1992 (Croxall and Gales 1998, Taylor 2000). However, birds are still killed by entanglement in nets and by collision with warp cables in trawl fisheries (Taylor 2000, Baker et al. 2007).

This species is also the most frequently caught species in pelagic tuna longline operations off South Africa (Ryan et al. 2002). It is estimated that 7,000-11,000 T. steadi were killed in the South African pelagic longline fishery between 1998-2000 (Ryan et al. 2002), and in 2005, an estimated 500-600 shy-type albatrosses were killed (Petersen 2004). In the South African demersal trawl fishery, observer data from 2004-2005 produced an estimate of 7,700 shy type albatrosses killed annually, and subsequent DNA analysis indicated that these were all T. steadi (ACAP 2009). In 2005 and 2006, T. steadi spent 85% of their time in southern African trawl grounds (ACAP 2009). Since the introduction of mandatory permit requirements in August 2006, whereby all vessels must deploy a bird streamer line, the bycatch rate has decreased but further data collection is required to establish a new catch estimate (Watkins et al. 2006). The impact of the large distant water fleets of Japan, Taiwan and Korea on T. steadi is largely unknown, but Japanese data from 2001-2002 indicate that at least 10% of recorded albatross mortalities were 'shy-type' albatrosses (Baker et al. 2007). It has been estimated that 8,200 White-capped Albatrosses are currently killed per annum, 75% of which are as a result of interactions with trawl fisheries in South African, Namibian and New Zealand waters (Baker et al. 2007). In the Uruguayan longline fleet operating in the southwest Atlantic Ocean, shy-type albatrosses (cauta-type) made up 25% of all birds observed in association with vessels, mostly immatures. Five individuals caught as bycatch were confirmed as T. steadi, but numbers caught were not sufficient to predict an overall bycatch level for the fleet (Jimenez et al. 2009).

Commercial exploitation of squid or fish reserves in Bass Strait could pose a threat to the species in the future by direct competition for food. On Auckland Island, the nesting area was significantly reduced during 1972-1982 because of interference by pigs, and feral cats may also take small numbers of chicks (Croxall and Gales 1998, Taylor 2000, Thompson and Sagar 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. A five-year aerial survey program of the Disappointment Island population commenced in 2006-2007. The New Zealand Department of Conservation has recently contracted the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to conduct demographic and tracking study of the Auckland Islands populations.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Census populations on all New Zealand islands. Conduct regular monitoring of a representative proportion of the population. Determine the at-sea distribution of the species through tracking studies and the interaction with longline and trawl fisheries (BirdLife International 2004). Promote the adoption of a) monitoring of seabird bycatch associated with longline and trawl fishing and b) best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within the species range, including via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and FAO.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Thalassarche steadi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22729609A95019546. . Downloaded on 29 March 2017.
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